Solar Cell and Module Technologies in India Will be on Focus if Duties are Imposed

The Indian solar industry currently is consumed by whether a safeguard duty will be imposed or not and all the pros and cons around it. If a safeguard duty is imposed (whatever the level may be) the next question will be, is there enough manufacturing capacity and do local manufacturers have the latest technology on par with the rest of the world?

The country is pushing hard to achieve the goal of installing 100 GW of solar by 2022 set by Prime Minister Modi. Currently India’s solar installations are being powered by components from foreign companies and their exports, especially Chinese exports when it comes to solar cells and modules. The current indigenous module manufacturing capacity is expected to be over 8 GW with operational capacity of around 5-6 GW, according to Mercom’s India Solar Manufacturing Tracker.

Manufacturing capacity is a moot point right now as most of the cells and modules are imported. In calendar year (CY) 2017, the Indian solar sector imported solar modules and cells totaling nearly $4.12 billion (~₹269 billion), a 43 percent increase from the $2.88 billion (~₹194 billion) recorded during the preceding year.

By the end of March 2018, India had an installed solar capacity of 22.5 GW, according to Mercom’s India Solar Project Tracker. The pace of installations has picked up in India in the past two and a half years.  However, the announcements of an anti-dumping investigation (which has been withdrawn but is expected to be refiled) and a potential imposition of a safeguard duty has spurred a slew of cell and module manufacturing capacity announcements.

According to Mercom’s India Solar Manufacturing Tracker, so far, 28 Indian firms have announced expansion plans totaling 4 GW since the initiation of the anti-dumping investigation.

Capacity expansion plan announcements aside, it is of paramount importance that the technologies that will be utilized are the most advanced and efficient. To put it simply, to compete with foreign imports, the Indian manufacturers need to up their technology game.

Mercom’s research team has been hearing from smaller Indian firms that many small manufacturers are still using 4 busbars in their panel technology, which is out of date as most Chinese companies and larger Indian manufacturers are using 5 busbars. A busbar is a thin strip of metal between cells that conducts electricity in a solar module. The size of the busbar determines the amount of current that can be carried.

Mercom’s news team interacted with several Indian as well as foreign module manufacturers about the technology issues in the market, especially the variants of busbars (BBs) available in the market.

When contacted, an executive at Jinko Solar informed Mercom, “At Jinko, we utilize 5 busbars. We are planning 12 BB/9 BB for the next year.”

When asked how the number of busbars affects the module efficiency, the executive replied, “5 busbar distance is less, so the inner heat current losses will be dropped. The filling factor (FF) increased by reducing by resistance (Rs) which results in a stronger collecting current carrier.”

When asked about what the prevalent technology in India is, the Jinko executive said, “In India, the top 10 PV manufacturers have shifted from 4BB to 5BB.” The executive further commented that in China the prevalent technology is 5 BB as the durability and reliability of these busbars are better.

The Jinko executive added, “Five busbar products have high performance. Its power degradation is less than 5 percent in reliability testing, which is according to IEC61215 (a standard certification by International Electrotechnical Commission).”

Talking to Mercom, another executive at India’s largest module manufacturer, Adani, said, “More than 99 percent of the world market is today on 4 or 5 BB and at Adani we are 100 percent at 5 BB.”

Talking about the development in module manufacturing technology, Adani executive said, “While the efficiency gains are good up to 5 BB, the benefit beyond that point are not enough and hence the 6 BB switch is almost nil except for the few who are trying the same in their high efficiency products.”

“At Adani, we have stringers that are capable of producing 6 BB and are also working on 6 BB in our India’s first high efficiency mono products. All the Chinese manufacturers are producing modules with 5 BB only,” he added.

Elaborating further, the executive said, “Most of the module stringers in India have the capability to produce modules up to 6 BB and it only requires a small tool change. Bus bar print in cell lines are easy and most of the cell lines in India can produce any configuration of BB.”

“The stringers are not available beyond 6 BB in the market. The next level after 6 BB is multi BB that can do 12 and above,” added the Adani executive.

While cells with 4 busbars are not an issue right now as 5 busbars can easily be imported it remains to be seen how this all plays out if duties are imposed in the future.

“There will be ample opportunity for domestic manufacturers to shine and show they can produce efficient quality components at competitive pricing. Larger manufacturers who already are up to date in terms of technology and can invest to upgrade, will be at a greater advantage while smaller manufacturers may struggle, leading to consolidation in the sector,” said Raj Prabhu, CEO of Mercom Capital Group.

Issues around technology, cell and module quality, efficiency and price will be front and center if duties are imposed in the future.

Image credit: Sinovoltaics

Saumy Prateek Saumy has been with MercomIndia.com as a staff reporter covering business and energy news since 2016. Prior to Mercom, Saumy was a copy editor at Thomson Reuters. Saumy earned his Bachelors Degree in Journalism & Mass Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication at Manipal University. More articles from Saumy Prateek.